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In Their Own Words

A Conversation with Jenni Franklin and Stephen Sechrist

  • franklin_sechrist_1_photoset.jpg
    Stephen Sechrist and Jenni Franklin    Photo by Kate Hoving
  • franklin_sechrist_2_photoset.jpg
    Sechrist and Franklin in front of the Undergraduate Admission office    Photo by Kate Hoving
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  • Jenni Franklin (JF)
    Senior Assistant Dean of Admission
    Regions: International Students, U.S. Citizens Oversees, U.S. Territories, and St Andrews Joint Degree Programme Applicants
  • Stephen Sechrist (SS)
    Director, International Students, Scholars, and Programs

A new focus in admissions

SS: Jenni Franklin started at William & Mary fall 2018. Tim Wolfe, Associate Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Admission, created this position that is specifically focused on international — and he recruited for that.

JF: It’s not necessarily a new position in our office, but it is the first time that this position has been filled with the intention of having someone who is fully focused on international admissions. I think it’s important to have an international perspective on a college campus. It allows for students to share their perspectives both ways, and it gives them the opportunity to grow in a space where [personal and intellectual] growth is already happening.

SS: I was on the search committee for Jenni, and during the interview…

JF: That wasn’t nerve racking at all…

SS: … what really struck me about Jenni was that her passion for diversity and admissions really came through. When she accepted the position, we were all excited. W&M has been doing international admissions for years, but to have someone who is formally and officially dedicated to that, who brings the background that Jenni has, was a huge step.

To me the mission of a university is to create and share knowledge. We are here to help create a better understanding of our world. And if you want to do that — if you want to tackle these problems that transcend borders, political and social borders — you have to have perspectives from all areas of the world, all aspects of society. You can’t do that if you don’t have a strong global community at the university.

JF: I love finding the students who are ready to take on the work of the institution. You get to see how it changes a student’s life and changes the culture on your campus too, to allow for this growth of international perspective, growth of diversity, growth of understanding of each other.

Attracting and recruiting international students

JF: I think it’s the same answer for domestic students as it is for international students. This is actually my 16th year in college admissions. As an admissions professional, you observe what other colleges do well. William & Mary has always been on my radar as a place where a lot of personal and academic growth happens for students. If you’re walking into the classroom here, you’re the type of student that is ready to take the next step — ready to let the faculty blow your mind a little bit.

And so when you are working with high schools and you see the student that is ready to take ttep and ready to push beyond what they know, you understand William & Mary would be a great fit. International students who are willing to come to the United States are already working in that direction, and I think that in their applications it’s fairly easy to see the type of student who would be a great fit here.

SS: I hear sometimes in [higher education] in general, people say, “Oh, you work with the international students,” as if it’s something other….

JF: Yeah, something ethereal and scary. Maybe a little bit different…

SS: And consequently international students are not seen as individuals. But William & Mary does a good job of remembering that students are all individuals, whether you’re talking about a group of 20 or a group of 100 students from a country.

JF: The beauty of my role is that I do get to know them as individuals. When we get their applications, they send us two essays, we have letters of recommendation, and we see their list of activities and involvement. We learn their stories.

Global Enrollment Strategy

SS: William & Mary offers a world-class, quintessentially American higher education experience, with excellent opportunities for students to learn and to grow here academically, socially and professionally. When I look at attracting the best and brightest from around the world, having a global enrollment strategy is really important.

What’s exciting is that we already have so many pieces in place. They just have to be coordinated. For example, we’re developing scholarships with Advancement to help bring students here who never would have dreamed of William & Mary. Our Global Ambassador Scholarships are recruitment scholarships for international students. We work closely with the admissions office on identifying students for them.

JF: I think it’s a combination of a lot of just using the resources that we have and the contacts that we have through faculty, through alums, through other staff members and through our professional organizations and relationships, things like that.

I have an email folder that says “international team” and it’s folks around campus, who either work with international populations or travel internationally, and folks who can be resources for us. We work with alums too, who have done college fairs for us through Education USA and other organizations.

SS: We have always had faculty and staff already going abroad for professional reasons and now we’re starting to connect with them asking, “Hey, while you’re abroad, why don’t you visit a couple of high schools in Peru or Nigeria while you’re there to help spread the word about William and Mary?”

So, case in point. Amanda Barth, the director of MBA admissions traveled to Latin America [in February] to recruit for the MBA program. She offered to visit some high schools and alumni. So Jenni and I said, “Great, let’s see your itinerary.” We identified a couple of dates and narrowed down a list of high schools in those cities. We use published rankings of high schools and connections that Jenni has through International ACAC (International Association for College Admission Counseling). I also reached out to an alum from Lima who has offered to help in the past and asked, “If you were to name four high schools that you think we should visit, what would those be?”

JF: We also have students in our database from Lima and other places [Barth] is going. I ran reports based on where we’ve had students who have applied in the past, the high schools from which students have applied as well as students who are on our mailing list for one reason or another.

Strengthening an alumni network

SS: Tapping our alumni network is key. I recently worked with an alumnus from Moldova, he was an American working for the State Department in Moldova, and he covered an education fair for us back in June. Jenni, you worked with one from Mexico?

JF: Yes, in Mexico, Keabra Opong-Brown ’16 worked for the State Department there. She was great. She did a fair for us. In fact, she reached out to us and asked, “We’re having a college fair. Can I represent William & Mary?” And we said of course! We mailed her materials, and she sent us back contact cards of students who came and talked with her at the college fair.

SS: That’s what I really love about this work: building connections among students and alumni.

JF: We could talk about this all day. I think for me that’s always been the piece of admissions that’s been the most important: the relationships that you build and maintain.

SS: But we still have a lot of work to do in terms of getting our name recognized globally. I think we are a great university. We offer an excellent education, so being able to introduce William & Mary as an option to that high school student in São Paulo or that graduate student in Tokyo who wants to do their MBA here, that’s really important work.

JF: And they have such a rich experience. They have a lot to add to our community. To me it’s not necessarily always about giving the student the opportunity as much as it is giving our community the opportunity to learn and grow from each other.

SS: We’re an elite university and have thought, people will recognize us, right? And that’s true in some parts of the US, in some parts of the world. For instance we have excellent name recognition in China now. But that’s a development that has really happened in the last five or six years.

JF: Not all cultures are mobile. The Chinese culture, particularly the types of students that would be interested in William & Mary, are mobile and are interested in the world and traveling to the United States. There are other regions where it’s just not part of the culture that they know and grew up in, so it’s more of a reach. It’s not necessarily something that is going to be in the forefront of their minds. So being able to do some outreach is essential.

Next steps

JF: Someone from William & Mary has always gone to the International ACAC conference every year, so I will certainly attend this year in London, Ontario. I’ve never been to Canada, and I fully expect that that will be also a transformative experience for me. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here, but there is a lot to know in my world in particular. In different countries, the grading scales, curricula and expectations in the classroom are different, and that for me is probably one of the most important pieces of my job to understand because I need to be able to put their transcripts into context.

I do not have any recruitment travel on my calendar at the moment because that has never been a part of the office’s budget. I will likely participate in a fall trip funded by the St Andrews Joint Degree Programme. I think once we’ve put something together that we feel is a worthwhile use of William & Mary’s time, money, energy and effort to be in a particular location to meet with students and to do some significant recruiting, it will make more sense for me to go.

SS: And it’s also part of her overall plan or strategy, to say here’s what we need to do to get William & Mary to that next level and here’s what that would cost. We have a list of things that we want to achieve over the course of the next year. An overarching theme is building the connections we’ve talked about.

JF: And it’s a lot of long-term things, too These changes don’t happen overnight, and we’re very well aware that we can put some things in place right now that can be beneficial and helpful. But we know it’s going to take steps over time. And because admissions is so cyclical every year you take one step forward, one step forward, one step forward.

SS: Yes, it’s a long process. But the fruit of it you see when the students come here, when they arrive, and they’re at orientation, and you meet them. And then when they’re here, and you can advise and guide them and even stay in touch after they graduate and they’re alumni. It’s great.

Global Ambassador Scholarships

To advance the diversity of our global student community, the Reves Center for International Studies administers the Global Ambassador Scholarships to incoming freshmen and undergraduate transfer students from abroad. These competitive, one-time scholarships range from $5,000 to $10,000 and are made possible by the generosity of donors. 

Global Ambassador Scholarship
Southeast Asia
funded by W&M Alumnus Michael Blakey ’98

Global Ambassador Scholarship
Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India
funded by Professor Emeritus Alan McLeod

Global Ambassador Scholarship
Russia, former Soviet Republics, Eastern Europe
funded by W&M Alumnus Gregory Tepper ’87

Learn more on the Reves Center website